Category Archives: Botany

The Day After the Hottest Day

Yesterday, March 2nd 2015, was the hottest day in Cape Town for 100 years.  Fires raged on the Cape Penninsula and we could do nothing but think of our poor friends all over the Cape evacuating their homes, of the animals that had to be evacuated and of the wildlife on the mountains that must be suffering terribly.  In many areas all that is left is a bare lunar landscape.  This blog is dedicated to all our friends who have been battling the fires for the last three days.

All the more terrifying because we live on a mountain that is overdue a big fire, and beside a huge pine forest.  As we worried about our friends yesterday a small fire broke out on our mountain, but was quickly contained by our local fire services.

The strange weather has contributed; on Sunday this wild windy sunset light the sky, and was followed by unbelievable howling winds that stripped the young olives off our trees.  The wind howled all day on Monday and then dropped in the evening, to be followed yesterday by a day of searing heat all over the province.  We quite often get temperatures of over 40 degrees down in the valley, but almost never here on the mountain.  It was 42 all over the Cape yesterday, even here on the farm at 5 pm as we wound down from a long hot day.

As quickly as the heat appeared it was gone.  This morning was remarkably cool and I went for a long run with the dogs.  The sky was cloudy and drops of rain spat from the sky. This weather is most bizzare.  There are not many flowers on the mountain, but some signs of life to come all the same.  A pink tipped Protea Repens and a Pelargonium that can flower all the year round but still amazing that this plant should choose this hottest driest month to show it’s enchanting face.

Pelargonium myrrhifolium var myrrhifolium

Pelargonium myrrhifolium var myrrhifolium

The air was still and cool but the remains of the great heat still came as a powerful beat from the earth; there is no proper rain in the forecast and we can only pray that the Gods are kind to us and that fire does not come to claim us this year.

Christmas, a wedding, and a little contemplation

Christmas and a house full of family and friends.  Running on the mountain continues with a bride (Peter’s son gets married on 8 Jan and they are staying with us) who is keen to keep her figure elegant through the Christmas indulgence so the running is serious and the opportunities to stop and take pictures infrequent at best.  We’ve been running through the pine forest that adjoins the farm; in the warm summer weather the stately silence of the trees and the dappled cool of the forest is a welcome break from the heat and the wind.  Because the dogs get protective I tend not to run in the forest except on Sunday mornings and at Christmas when the foresters take a break.

We did a farm run for a change this morning and saw this Tritoniopsis burchellii; the guests were good enough to wait while I snapped it.  I’ve been waiting for it to flower – I first saw it last year about this time.  They are an incredible shade of scarlet that seems almost surreal on this photo.

Tritoniopsis burchellii

Tritoniopsis burchellii

The Salvia africana is also in full bloom on the mountain – it flowers beautifully all year round and I can never resist taking a shot of it when the light is good.

After I posted the Gladiolus liliaceus before Christmas quite a few more came out above the waterfall and we went back up to take some photos of better flowers.  Peter came with me once again, the dogs followed.  We spent a happy half an hour finding the best flowers.  I took a shot of the same flower in the morning to show how remarkably they open up in the evening light.  The dogs of course take great delight in watching our antics.

Seamus and Maebh watching Peter as he inspects the fynbos flowers

Seamus and Maebh watching Peter as he inspects the fynbos flowers

It’s a funny time of year this.  We love it, there are great friends who come to stay and family as well.  The house is full of noise and this year, Peter’s first grandchild.  There is a tinge of sadness as well.  Most of the precious people I’ve lost have gone between the middle of December and the end of January.  It’s a well known phenomenon that people pass away at Christmas, for many reasons and all of them different.  So in the celebration and coming together there is also sadness, regret and reflective moments.  Loss.  These days are busy and full of treats and fun.  As we run on the mountain with the dogs bounding after Ola who bounces along ahead like the resident klipspringers, tiny antelopes with spongy feet that allow them to spring across the rocks, I follow and in the beauty of these mountains I think of those who have departed, and quietly remember them.  Not always sadly; there is pleasure in the memories, they are gone but they were wonderful and we were lucky to have known them.

Bulbs and a Couple of Peas and an Irish Wolfhound or two

What a busy week it has been. I must apologise to friends who prefer the chatty blog to the technical botanical blog.  At this time of year there is so much to share, so we have a botanical phase for now and more chat will inevitatably follow.

Although I have been wanting to post a collection of flowering bulbs for some time there was a small problem with identifying one or two.  The best way to get help is to post on ispot, where the South African flora and fauna geeks all post their sighting and help one another out with identification.  Sure enough, within a couple of days I’ve had some help and can now happily identify a paricularly pretty apricot flower as yet another Moraea, this time miniata.

The other one is our most common gladiolus, which the experts identify as the famous and common Painted Lady, Gladiolus carneus, known as the White Afrikaner.  This must be right yet it is also frustrating as the books insist on the red splash on the lower petals while mine splash yellow.  Everything else fits though and they are just coming into flower now so I’ll be on a determined hunt for red splashes and I’m sure over the next few weeks I’ll post a few more photos of this really stunning Gladiolus.

Running last week was great from a running point of view as the weather was dry and windy and I have learned that taking pictures of flowers is best left for days with little or no wind.  The dogs loved the faster pace and once again we had a photogenic moment when Seamus and Maebh stopped at Fox Pan for a drink as we ran up the dry side of our farm.

image

There is such an abundance of flowers this year and every step of the run means another group or another flower.  There are shrubs I haven’t stopped to photograph because I think, they’ll still be there in a couple of weeks.  Flowering bulbs are different, they have a short life and you only get a few days to capture them.  I know I don’t see them all, for example last year I completely missed this dramatic Moraea bellendenii and this lovely Aristea spiralis which both flower at the same time, when I was away.

Other bulbs that flower at this time of year include Geissorhiza aspera, which opens when the sun shines and covers the lands in blue stars.  And yet another Aristea, the pretty Aristea africana, which is often used in gardens.   The pink Wurmbea punctata is much less common and easy to miss, it’s snuggled up to several shrubs along a busy road and there are very few of them.  The Baeometra uniflora which is not very prettily known as the Beetle Lily, it is choosy about where it lives and grows prolifically in one specific spot.

There are a couple more I don’t have names for, I’ll see if the geeks can help.  This first one is tiny – the flowers are less than half the size of the nail on my little finger.  I really should be able to name the second one, but there are quite a few flowers that look like this, so I’m not sure.  And the third one is the most exquisite little thing – also tiny.

Finally, two distinctive peas.  One is simply known as the Blue Pea, Psoralea aphylla, found in marshy places and along streams, which is exactly where we saw it. image The other is prolific at the moment along the top road and very distinctive; I’m pretty sure it is Lotononis of which there are 40 odd fynbos varieties and only two are covered in my book.  It isn’t either of those but the tri-foliate leaves and solitary flowers on slender stems are a bit of a giveaway.

All about Ericas

An interesting question came from a follower of this blog:  where does the inspiration come from?  How do I sit down and write 500 – 100 words every week or so?  I’ve never thought about it – the inspiration comes from the run, the beauty of the place, sometimes, wild, sometimes spiritual, always theatrical.  Every time it’s the same story, I took my dogs, we went for a run on our farm, we saw flowers.  Like Heraclites’s river it’s always the same and always different and there is another tale to tell.  I do my best thinking on the run.  I don’t listen to music and my mind is free to wander and ponder.  Mostly I think about work or about what I’m going to put in the blog.  The thought about Heraclites and his river, fished out from the bubbling spring of knowledge that was my first philosophy lecture at Trinity, came to mind on a run.  By the time I actually sit down and write, the words are clamouring to be put on the page and it’s only a matter of deciding how to present it.  The titles are another matter – I read somewhere that titles matter a lot when you blog, so I have to consider my theme and find an elegant arrangement of words that will capture the reader’s interest and make them want to read further.

At this time of year the sheer volume of flowers on the mountain is overwhelming.  We went for a run on Saturday evening; the air was calm and still and the run was about 60% photos and 40% run.  Luckily by Sunday morning a wind had picked up and I’ve learned there’s no point in trying to photograph flowers when their long stems are being blown by the wind; much better for my fitness!  I took just one photo, of Seamus  loving the feeling of the wind in his coat.

Seamus enjoying the wind as he trots up the mountain with Paarl visible in the valley below

Seamus lets the wind stream through his coat with Paarl visible in the valley below

Last year some readers complained that bacame a bit obssessive about the flowers and they missed the bit of chat that goes with the blog.  So this year I shall do some frequent posts and place the flowers in groups, starting with the Ericas.  I’ve mentioned before that one of the interesting things about the Cape Floral Kingdom is that it is the most diverse in the world, accounting for the hundred of species growing on our small farm.  And Ericas are the most diverse of all, with around 860 subspecies and 660 of those are fynbos.  So it’s not a surprise that they are not always easy to identify. I’ve included here some Erica’s that we haven’t posted yet – there are many many more in flower and I will try and add an Erica page when I have time to do some cataloguing.

One particular favourite grows at the top of the waterfall, on the other side of the stream.  If you look closely you can just see it at the top of the fall.  In reality it’s a vibrant splash of pink.  It’s quite far from the road; I risked a soaking and my still recovering ankle to bring you these photos of the perfectly named Erica multumbellifera in full bloom.

Erica abietina comes in many colours: yellow, orange, red or magenta.  Those on our farm are all this fabulous scarlet, quite often hard to photograph because the shiny flowers reflect the light intensely.

Erica Abietina

Erica Abietina

Another charming pink Erica has emerged higher up at the very top of the farm where the damp and little used road encourages lots of fynbos growth.  This one has little pinky-white bells.  There are lots of subspecies with little pink bells which makes them hard to identify – even in the book the descriptions are almost exactly the same.  The flowers are almost too tiny to be seen with the naked eye, the iphone camera does a great job of enlarging them.

Even smaller is this white-flowering rambling Erica.  Seamus helpfully stood beside the plant so that you can get an idea of just how very tiny the flowers are.  Then I used the iphone camera with a microlens to get a decent image of the flowers which are very white with little teeth on the edges.  When this shrub finds a place it likes it spreads and spreads and swarthes of land are covered in it in sections.

The colour of home

 

What a welcome home.  We arrived back from a 10 day trip from Europe and for once it was a holiday and not work, so instead of feeling shattered and grumpy we arrived to a perfectly glorious spring day, full of joy and looking forward to getting home to the farm and the dogs.  This evening, at sunset, I put on the running shoes and went out onto the mountain with the dogs.  Since we left it has poured with rain; it must have been one of the wettest August’s ever which might be a bit miserable but produces perfect conditions for the fynbos to flower.  The mountain has exploded into life since we left and we are in for a bonanza season.  Any reader of The Fynbos Blog who would like to visit the farm and do a ‘flower safari’ is welcome to contact us and we will welcome you.  We are in Paarl, the best time of day is sunset in good weather, though mornings are also good if we have time.   You must like dogs.

Tonight the sky was glorious with colour and for once I’ve posted a sunset shot as the headline picture.  All the photos on this blog are taken with my iPhone 5 and I’m so impressed with what it can do.  This shot is a view of the lights of Paarl, with Table Mountain 60 kilometres away dominating the skyline in the orange light.

Peter had been up to the weir earlier today and he took the new road by the waterfall.  As we set off he told me it was covered with tiny white flowers and we ran up that way to find the road, and indeed much of the farm covered with Hespertha and Geissorhiza ovate, they can look quite similar in a photo but are quite different in real life.  Another common flowering bulb in the lands at the moment is the Grass lily, Chlorophytum – I’m not quite sure which subspecies this one is.  When the plants are strong it looks like a tiny tree growing from the lily-like leaves.  

There are so many flowers at this time of year that it can be a struggle to comment on each of them.  Being on the mountain is amazing; it is covered in flowers; I post only the new things I see, or if I get a particularly lovely shot of an old friend.  I’ll group all the flowering bulbs together, they are always particularly lovely, and shrubs, daisies and so on separately.  

This is today’s collection – not all of which I have identified yet.

 

And some shrubs and daisies

 

 

Balmy days and foggy nights

We’ve been having exceptionally warm and sunny weather for the time of year.  Although we quite often get an early burst of spring in August, this is really warm – 28 degrees or even higher yesterday and we are still in t-shirts today.  The combination of warmth and damp in spring often means foggy patches and a favourite sight is the view from the farm on a foggy morning.  We had one breathtaking dawn moment as the full moon set behind Paarl mountain and the fog lapped at the foothills.  The moon is never as spectacular in a photo, this one was huge and round and dominated the morning sky.

Moon setting over Paarl

Moon setting over Paarl

The Lobostemon fruticosus has burst into flower.  The dull light brings out the best in it; it has a luminous glow.  And sometimes the very first rays of sun just catch the flowers so they are lit from within.   The colour ranges from pink to pale blue and the small shrubs are covered in a mass of flowers.  We have them everywhere.  I have tried to transplant them into the garden but even the small ones have a deep deep tap root that I haven’t succeeded in transplanting intact, so they shrivel and die.  Never mind, they clearly prefer the mountain.

It quite often happens that I notice something in a particular area and think of it as rare and special only to find out a few days later that it is all over the farm.  This pretty yellow shrub is one of those.  I initially didn’t recognise it, and then was quite excited to realise when I had a good look at the photos that it was probably another Hermannia, like the ones we saw last week.  Rushed to the book, looked up the Hermannias and sure enough it’s Hermannia althaeifolia, quite a common plant in the region and also used extensively in gardens.  Not surprising, it’s a lovely thing.  The photo in the reference book isn’t very good though, so I went to iSpot for some clarification and checking those images there can be no doubt.

iSpot is the place for geeks when it comes to fynbos.  They ask us to post what we see and I don’t do it enough, but if I can’t identify something, there is always a far more knowledgeable person on iSpot who will.  This little white flowering bulb for instance, which I posted a couple of blogs ago, has been identified as Ixia.  They were not sure which subspecies, and I can’t find it in any of my reference books, but reading into the more detailed description of the Ixia, I can see what they mean.

Ixia

Ixia

I don’t know what this absolutely charming white Erica is.  There are some serious Erica experts on iSpot though, so I shall post it and see what we come up with.

White Erica

White Erica

A couple of pelargoniums – the first one is not really spectacular as the photo isn’t very good – but it’s one I haven’t posted yet this year.  The other is another, pelargonium myrrhifolium varr myrrhifolium, a pelargonium I posted a couple of weeks ago, from a different plant on a different part of the farm.

 

 

The Vulnerable – Leucospermum lineare

Delicate, tumbling down the slopes beside the drive, the Vulnerable as Lucospermum lineare is known, is one of the sights of winter and early spring.  It is rare and endangered and safe with us.

What a weekend!  Why do we think: let’s do a dinner party on Thursday, and then, yes, another one on Friday, leftovers on Saturday but oh my goodness a long long Sunday lunch at the gorgeous and delicious Overture Restaurant in the Hidden Valley where we plumbed the depths, the deepest depths, of their wine cellar?  And got home at 9pm.  From lunch.  Personally I blame the wonderful and very talented Niall who has been here coaching dressage and who likes the good life just as much as we all do and is thoroughly good company, so everybody wants to spend time with him when he’s here and we like to entertain him.

So I didn’t get out on the farm this morning, but I managed to stagger out with the dogs for a lovely time on Saturday afternoon which was much more about the flowers than the running.  The Babinia fragrans are all over the place now – one of the prettiest and commonest flowering bulbs on the farm.  Once they flower everything else seems to start bursting with life.

On the drive, growing now among the Morea tripelata is a delicate little flower which I have not identified.

And talking of Morea, as we ran down the path to the waterfall I saw this, which made me stop and look twice.  It looks very like an oxalis, but the colour is darker than most, the leaf not the same and it lacks the common yellow throat.  Also, the Oxalis petals grow in an Escher-like (would that be Escherian?) spiral, where this has three top petals and three bottom petals.  As I flicked though the Encyclopedia of bulbs I suddenly recognised it – Morea veriscolor.  Lovely to find something new and learn a new flower as well.

We stopped for a drink of course and Seamus took his usual spot in the stream, peeking at us through the ferns.

Seamus peeking through the leaves

Seamus peeking through the ferns

All over the farm and probably all over the country the tickberry is in flower.  This is one of those plants that has been renamed – it used to be known as Chrysanthemoides monilifera but now has been reclassified as Osteospermum moniliferum.  It grows wild all over South Africa and is found in lots of gardens as well.

Another very common shrub is known as the climber’s friend, cliffortia ruscifolia.  Quite a stocky and strong rooted shrub, which must be why it is known as the climber’s friend, it certainly can’t be much fun to have to grab these brutal prickles.

We’ve cleared lots of lands over the winter and although I always worry about how much fynbos we take off it creates room for new growth.  The iPhone does a brilliant job of photographing flowers but not the delicate massed scattering of daisies and Babinia fragens in a field of buchu.  At the top of the field are masses of little yellow daisies.  I couldn’t find them in the book until I realised that the buttonwood daisy can have yellow petals as well as white.  This is not a great photo of this tiny flower as the light was hot and yellow.

Cotula turbinata

Cotula turbinata

Just at the top of the waterfall a single Red Hot Poker, Knophofia uvaria has emerged.

image

 

And along the road I saw this flower that I didn’t recognise at all but it was on the first page that I opened in one of my books.  It is Metalasia divergens.

Metalasia divergens

Metalasia divergens

And one last flower seen on this run.  I’ve spotted some new Pelargoniums that I don’t think I’ve documented before and we’ll be off in the morning if the light is good to see if we can get some shots of them.

Meanwhile this pretty Erica is different from all the others I’ve documented so far this year.  Pretty soft grey leaves distinguish it from others, as does the slightly different shape of the pink bells.  It’s gorgeous.

Erica with soft grey leaves

Erica with soft grey leaves

 

 

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